Fulford Academy Alumni Spotlight: Brett Lee

Fulford Academy’s family atmosphere and small size proved to be Brett’s catalyst for change
Brett Lee first set foot on Canadian soil in 2001 as a young 13-year old boy who spoke no English and knew nothing outside of his life in Seoul, Korea. He attended school in Eastern Canada where he quickly developed a tough side as a way of coping with the daily challenges he faced as a newcomer. Integration was extremely difficult for him. The inability to communicate coupled with a lack of cultural understanding from classmates turned his life upside down and his self-esteem plummeted.  As happens with many kids who feel lost and depleted of confidence, Brett developed many bad behaviors that ultimately resulted in a suspension from school.

Brett was one of Fulford Academy’s first students in 2002 when the school opened in Brockville. He came to Fulford to improve his English skills and this was the beginning of his transformation from a shy, angry human being to a confident, happy, smiling, respectful young boy.

The school’s family atmosphere and small size proved to be his catalyst for change. He felt safe and cared for at Fulford Academy and was accepted by the other students. The teachers, skilled at leading non-English learners, welcomed him and embraced his diversity. As a result, Brett’s confidence soared and he quickly developed solid language skills to enroll at Grenville Christian College, where he graduated with honors and as the top-ranking student in 2005.

Fast-Forward to Today

Today, Brett is a successful architect, artist, lecturer, and gallery manager active in three different cities, New York, Philadelphia, and Seoul. He knows first-hand that one’s grades, race, appearance and style do not define character or fate.

He attributes his journey from that first hard year in Canada to his professional success today to Fulford Academy, the place where he found a place to call home and supportive people who turned his life in a better direction.
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Enrolling at Fulford Academy helped Brett rethink who he really was and he was pulled upwards by the positive influence and supportive environment of the entire school community. He was able to shed the tough image he had previously built that he now attributes to being immersed in an environment where his true self was not accepted. He recalls the teachers at Fulford Academy as being very good to all the students because they did not mind the differences in race, culture, or ability and did not judge students by their grades.

Artistically too, Brett’s talents went unnoticed until he arrived at Fulford Academy despite always having paintings and sketches in hand. This was devastating to him and only added to his frustrations. At Fulford, the teachers quickly noticed his artwork and were impressed with his abilities. They supported Brett and encouraged him to develop his passion for art by enrolling him in a summer art program at St. Lawrence College. This was only the beginning of his journey.  He went on to earn an Honours BA with Distinction, Architectural/Visual Studies from the  University of Toronto and then completed his Master of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Presently, Brett is a registered architect working with Perkins Eastman in New York City, Perkins Eastman he is a founding member of Gallery JJ in Seoul, and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as an undergrad mentor at the University of Toronto.
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Brett credits his time at Fulford Academy as life-changing for him. He reflects back on the school as being a place where his race and culture did not matter, and his academics were not neglected. He received a lot of care that he needed and was promoted as a person at a time when he felt the world had disowned him. The weekend activities, art classes, and teacher support were extraordinary, and he notes that many fellow students received individual attention and opportunities to build on their talents and skills.

In his own words he says:

“I hope to visit Fulford in the future. It’s been a long journey since I left the school and my life before and after Fulford has been drastically different. I gained a lot from Fulford that turned me into valedictorian/Governor General medal recipient from one of the worst students with lowest grades possible. It was a true transformation.”

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Brett hopes to come back to visit Fulford one day to see first-hand how much the school has changed and grown. He remembers burying a time capsule somewhere in the backyard 17 years ago and hopes to one day meet up with the class of 2002 to dig it up.

By: Colleen Savage, Admissions Officer, Fulford Academy

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